A recent dinner at newly opened Bistro Cacao was a tasty trip to France by way of Massachusetts Avenue. The meal, which was about $180 for 4 without wine, was a happy surprise and the restaurant is a welcome addition to Hill dining. Standards for French fare are high in the neighborhood thanks to the long-standing and reliable success of grande dame Montmartre, but Bistro Cacao fills the “long comme un jour sans pain” wait for another French dining spot in the neighborhood. There’s room for improvement at this long-awaited replacement of the quirky Two Quail at 320 Massachusetts Avenue, but the initial “palate impression” was quite good.
My friends and I followed our attentive waiter’s recommendations, and overall were pleased with those choices. While the specials sounded quite tasty (and the fish was sold out) we chose regular menu items, starting with French standards Terrine de Foie Gras de Canard, Soupe a L’Oignon and Coquilles Saint-Jacques. The duck foie gras was robust and savory in it’s flavor, but the fig compote fell a bit flat. The pan-seared sea scallops accompanied by a fennel gratin were marvelous, and the combo with chervil made me file it away as a possible entree for a future visit. Cheesy and umami-rich, the onion soup was tasty, but not a standout. I’d love to see better bread and higher quality butter the next time I visit.
As dinner arrived, my plate became the object of desire. I was thrilled, as were my friends, with the quality of the perfectly-cooked Hanger steak, smothered with plum-colored caramelized shallots and crispy thin frites. The bouillabaisse “Bistro Cacao” featured six kinds of seafood in it’s generous portioning, and the fresh seafood stood out in the richly flavored broth. I always angle to co-opt as much of my husband’s dinner as possible, and when he ordered the Carre d’Agneau aux Herbes, I made sure I had a steak knife. The lamb chops were pink and tender, but sadly while the herb crust didn’t make that much of an impression, the seasoning on the rosemary jus was a bit too overpowering.
Other entrees that caught our eye included the creamy saffron risotto with red peppers, pistachio crusted tofu and basil sauce; the chicken breast stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, and the seared duck breast with braised endives and raspberry reduction. How we wished we had lucky Tom Sietsema’s expense account!
We had made sure to leave room for dessert and were happy to wait a few extra minutes for the flourless molten chocolate cake and the warm apple tart. In my mind, quality ice cream can make almost any warm desert heaven, and here it did not disappoint. We found the chocolate cake, described as dense and rich, quite so, but a little dry. The apple tart, with it’s raspberry sauce and flaky goodness, was a treat indeed.
While the setting is formal, yet kind of preserving the old auntie shabby chic look, the casual diners came and left with smiles on their faces and a bustling dining room is a good sign. In fact, we should have called earlier for our Saturday reservation, but an 8:30 sitting made us feel quite euro chic. These row houses turned restaurants present some design challenges so don’t be deterred when you open the door and think you’re in a black curtained closet. Imagine it’s a passage across the Atlantic and then ask for a table in the one of the interior rooms.
If you’ve tried Bistro Cacao, what was your experience? What does a new restaurant need to survive these economic times on Capitol Hill?